Thursday’s slate and what to watch

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Yet another day of watching college basketball all day. This is the sport’s holiday gift to us.

So what shouldn’t you miss tonight? Plenty. And good luck to those of you on the East Coast. The late, late games may be the best of the night.

(All times ET; TV info courtesy of HDSportsGuide.com)

Missouri vs. Illinois at St. Louis, Mo., 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Though let’s start with this, one of the few rivalry games on the slate, featuring two teams with combined records of 22-1. But those records are a little deceiving. The Illini aren’t in Missouri’s class, mostly because the two are polar opposites on offense – only Florida boats a more efficient offense than the Tigers – while Illinois’ defense is its calling card. We’ll see if Mizzou’s overwhelming edge at guard is too much for Illinois to withstand.

Memphis at Georgetown, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
What to make of these Tigers? Loaded with talent, but unable to beat a marquee team, this could be their best chance. They already lost once to Georgetown this season, but it was an overtime thriller and the Hoyas (9-1) have done little to test themselves since. Maybe this is finally the point Memphis plays a little defense.

Florida State at Florida, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Unstoppable force (Florida’s offense) meets immovable object (Florida State’s defense). Buckle up.

Northwestern at Creighton, 8 p.m. (Action3News)
Action3News is an Omaha station. If you can dial it up, do it. The odds of Doug McDermott staging an epic shootout with Northwestern’s John Shurna is pretty high. In fact, the odds of seeing an all-offense, no-defense are better than Kim Kardashian hooking up with an athlete in the next month.

Butler at Stanford, 9 p.m. (FSN)
The Cardinal (10-1) should dominate this game. Butler’s offense will have issues scoring against a solid defense and it’s the last of what’s been a trying non-conference schedule for the Bulldogs (5-7). Then again, Butler had no business beating Purdue, either.

Baylor vs. St. Mary’s in Las Vegas Invite, 10 p.m. (ESPN3)
The first of two potentially fantastic games. St. Mary’s (10-1) hasn’t played much of a schedule yet, but the Gaels have what Baylor doesn’t – guards who know how to run an offense. Plus, St. Mary’s frontcourt is actually a little underrated. The Bears (10-0) should feast on the boards with their massive frontline, but I bet the Gaels’ rebounding keeps this one close. And if it’s close, I like their odds if Matthews Dellavedova gets a chance at the final shot.

Long Beach State vs. Xavier in Diamond Head Classic, 11 p.m. (ESPNU)
Last one. And it’s a good one. LBS has played the nation’s second-toughest non-conference schedule, and this marks the end of a long, trying stretch to prepare for Big West play. The 49ers get the added benefit of facing a depleted Xavier team, too. Starting guard Mark Lyons and wing Dezmine Wells are still sitting for suspensions earned during their brawl against Cincinnati, which leaves Tu Holloway to do all the heavy lifting – and try to slow down Casper Ware. Xavier (8-1) was a mess in it s last game, a 22-point loss to Oral Roberts. Holloway’s back, but LBS is a far superior foe. Who knows what to expect here?

EAST

Drexel at Binghamton, 7 p.m.

Bucknell at Boston U., 7 p.m.

La Salle at CCSU, 7 p.m.

Texas St. at Fordham, 7 p.m.

James Madison at George Washington, 7 p.m.

Memphis at Georgetown, 7 p.m.

FAU at Harvard, 7 p.m.

Colgate at Hofstra, 7 p.m.

San Francisco at Holy Cross, 7 p.m.

Rider at Monmouth (NJ), 7 p.m.

Niagara at Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.

Princeton at Siena, 7 p.m.

Tulane at Syracuse, 7 p.m.

Fairfield at UConn, 7 p.m.

Davidson at UMass, 7 p.m.

American U. at Villanova, 7 p.m.

Loyola of Chicago at Canisius, 7:30 p.m.

NJIT at Rutgers, 7:30 p.m.

Texas-Arlington at St. Peter’s, 7:30 p.m.

SOUTH

Loyola (Md.) at Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Mount St. Mary’s at Savannah St., 6 p.m.

Campbell at Appalachian St., 7 p.m.

Coll. of Charleston at Coastal Carolina, 7 p.m.

Gardner-Webb at East Carolina, 7 p.m.

Florida St. at Florida, 7 p.m.

Georgia Southern at Georgia St., 7 p.m.

Mercer at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.

Delaware at Howard, 7 p.m.

Northeastern at NC State, 7 p.m.

VMI at Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Navy at Presbyterian, 7 p.m.

VCU at UNC Greensboro, 7 p.m.

E. Michigan at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.

Toledo at Florida Gulf Coast, 7:05 p.m.

Miami at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Bowling Green at FIU, 7:30 p.m.

Northwestern St. at Mississippi St., 8 p.m.

South Florida at Southern Miss., 8 p.m.

UTSA at Troy, 8 p.m.

Jacksonville at UAB, 8 p.m.

MIDWEST

UMBC at Indiana, 6 p.m.

Bradley at Michigan, 6:30 p.m.

Sam Houston St. at Cleveland St., 7 p.m.

Alabama St. at Detroit, 7 p.m.

Cent. Michigan at Wright St., 7 p.m.

Robert Morris at Youngstown St., 7:05 p.m.

Idaho at Green Bay, 8 p.m.

N. Dakota St. at Minnesota, 8 p.m.

Arkansas St. at Saint Louis, 8 p.m.

North Dakota at W. Illinois, 8 p.m.

Northwestern at Creighton, 8:05 p.m.

Boise St. at Iowa, 8:30 p.m.

Miami (Ohio) at Ohio St., 8:30 p.m.

Milwaukee at Marquette, 9 p.m.

Lehigh at Michigan St., 9 p.m.

Illinois at Missouri, 9 p.m.

SOUTHWEST

NC Central at Prairie View, 7:30 p.m.

Louisiana Tech at Arkansas, 8 p.m.

LSU at North Texas, 8 p.m.

Dallas Christian at SMU, 8 p.m.

Grambling St. at TCU, 8 p.m.

Rice at Texas A&M, 8 p.m.

Texas Tech at Oral Roberts, 8:05 p.m.

FAR WEST

Bethune-Cookman vs. Texas A&M-CC at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, 3 p.m.

South Alabama at San Diego, 5 p.m.

Tennessee Tech vs. Kennesaw St. at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, 5:30 p.m.

Bryant at Arizona, 7 p.m.

Elon at San Diego St., 7:30 p.m.

Missouri St. vs. West Virginia at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, 8 p.m.

UC Santa Barbara at BYU, 9 p.m.

Texas Southern at Colorado, 9 p.m.

The Citadel at Denver, 9 p.m.

Air Force at Gonzaga, 9 p.m.

Utah Valley at Montana, 9 p.m.

UMKC at New Mexico, 9 p.m.

UC Davis at S. Utah, 9 p.m.

Butler at Stanford, 9 p.m.

Utah at Weber St., 9 p.m.

Wyoming at Idaho St., 9:05 p.m.

Colorado St. at N. Colorado, 9:05 p.m.

Pacific at CS Bakersfield, 10 p.m.

Portland at Nevada, 10 p.m.

Stephen F. Austin at Oregon, 10 p.m.

Hope International at UC Irvine, 10 p.m.

San Jose St. at UC Riverside, 10 p.m.

CS Northridge at Washington, 10 p.m.

Pepperdine at Washington St., 10 p.m.

Portland St. at Cal St.-Fullerton, 10:05 p.m.

SE Missouri at Sacramento St., 10:05 p.m.

Kent St. at Utah St., 10:05 p.m.

Saint Mary’s (Cal) vs. Baylor at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, 10:30 p.m.

Kansas at Southern Cal, 11 p.m.

TOURNAMENTS

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

At Honolulu

First Round

UTEP vs. Clemson, 2:30 p.m.

Kansas St. vs. S. Illinois, 5 p.m.

Long Beach St. vs. Xavier, 11 p.m.

Auburn at Hawaii, 1:30 a.m.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”